Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



First Advisor

Tillman Nechtman

Second Advisor

Jenny Huangfu Day


A railroad gauge is defined as the width between two rails on a track. In the earliest days of railroading, many companies adopted different gauges, often resulting in chaos where incompatible lines met up. By the 20thcentury, most countries selected a single national gauge, but the fallout from the ‘battle of the gauges’ can still be felt today, making the issue of gauge breaks more than an historical footnote. This thesis suggests that the study of track width can provide meaningful insight into why Britain and Japan differed so greatly in constructing their own railroad lines—differences that impacted their oversight of railway systems in India and Manchuria. After examining the causes of gauge breaks in these countries, the thesis concludes that whether a gauge break problem arose or was quickly resolved largely depended on the following factors: (1) Whether interested parties adopted a localist or nationalist approach to railroad construction (i.e., building a line instead of a network); (2) How the railroads were financed, and whether investors were impacted by economic losses and the unprofitability of lines; (3) Inconsistent railway policies that were often influenced by a revolving door of advisors and/or parties with conflicting interests (e.g., laissez-faire proponents versus advocates of strong regulatory oversight); and (4) The ability of those most impacted by gauge breaks to petition for redress.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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